NAD-Tone King Gremlin

pope858

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A little bit of an adventure, but the good folks in Ft Wayne came through. I had originally bought a Gremlin they had as a demo, but the amp arrived with the KT66 power tube loose in the cabinet with a broken base! Tubes are hard to get, they told me, so they graciously offered to send me a new one at the same price. So finally last week, the new one arrived. Beautiful amp, well made, light weight, everything a boutique amp should be. My first though when I first turned it on was, this thing has a noticeable hum! Manageable, and somewhat expected but a bit of a surprise anyway. So over the last couple days I have played this amp with all my electric guitars. In my opinion, it handles single coil PU's very well, especially good with my strat; a little less pleasing with my T-style thinline, but still ok. My Les Paul Studio on the other hand sounded terrible! Harsh and brittle to my ears.
The amp itself is loud! The attenuator seems to work as advertised, and could be a very useful feature. My biggest problem with this amp is how quickly it begins to break up! The rhythm channel, with the volume above 4 breaks up too early for my taste. The lead channel starts distorted and goes from there. While the amp is pleasant at low volume levels (2-4) I found its character less appealing at even mid volume levels, with or without the attenuator in use!
So, the end result is the Gremlin is going back and I will be replacing it with new Fender '65 Princeton Reverb with a Lacquered Tweed finish and a 12" Cannabis Rex speaker. This model is exclusive to this dealer. Never a dull moment in the quest for tone. I'll post pictures of the new one, when it arrives!
 

sloppychops

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I've read so many good things about the Gremlin...this is the first bad review I've seen. Sorry to hear it didn't work out as you had hoped, but you made a great choice with that 65 Princeton Reverb. If I were in the market for another Princeton, I'd get that same one. FWIW, love my 68 Princeton.
 

pope858

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I was surprised by my own reaction to the Gremlin! I expected to love it, but it just didn't wow me, especially at its price point! I was also disappointed in the treble sound of the amp at higher volumes. It ranged from shrill to fizzy at higher volume settings. Part of that could be the Celestion speaker (they're not my favorite) but I can't see spending a good amount on a "boutique" amp and then having to start upgrading tubes and speakers to find what should be there "out of the box" so to speak! Looking forward to the Princeton Reverb with the 12" Eminence Cannabis Rex. Hoping it has a little more to offer right away!
 

Joe M

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I’ve had at least 3 Gremlins in the past, all with pretty much the same results as you’ve had. Very well made, loud, good looking, but in the end, not the sound I was looking for. Kept trying, that’s why 3 of them. I really wanted to like them, just never did. IMO, you’re gonna love the PRRI. Bottom line, if you want the Fender sound, buy a Fender. Looking forward to your NAD and your thoughts on it.
 

Tim S

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@pope858 (& @Joe M ) Thanks for the honest review. I’m a happy Tone King owner (Sky King), so I took particular notice in what you had to say.

If you’re not used to single-ended circuits, they will seem noisier than push-pull circuits. But getting breakup on 4 while using the “clean” channel on an 8 watt amp doesn’t seem right. I probably would have tried a 5751 in V1 before sending it back, but that’s me.

Just curious if the Gremlin came with their usual stock TAD tubes. With the shortage, did they substitute something else? ( The alternative modern tubes recommended by Bartel are Electro Harmonics, fwiw)

I know Tone King says the Gremlin was a Mark Bartel design. But it’s a design he never released while he owned the company. Maybe there’s a reason why that’s the case? If the idea of a PRRI sounds good to you, maybe you should try an Imperial sometime? (if for no other reason, to see if your dislike is for a particular model or the entire brand)

You’re certain to get more clean volume from the Princeton than the Gremlin, but you’ll need some sort of pedal if you want the Tweed sound the Gremlin is supposed to provide.

I too look forward to your NAD thread. The Cannabis Rex is a polarizing speaker, so I hope it works out for you.
 

uriah1

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Some folks like that early breakup I guess.
Glad you got what you need in the end run.
 

TeleTex82

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I think you'll be very happy with the Princeton. I love mine. There is a sweetness to the tone that, to my ears, seems exclusive to BF princetons. I play both single coils and HBs and both sound great through it. I have mine loaded with a GA SC64.

Still jonesing for an Imperial though. Some day...
 

rockclimber

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I've had a Gremlin for about a month and absolutly love it. It so fun to play! Even thought about getting a second one so I could switch between rhythm and lead channels on the fly (there is a bit too much volume jump when going from the rhythm to lead channel using an amp switcher box. Would be nice to be able to dial in the volume of the two channels seperately). If you need a decent amount of clean headroom, this is not the amp for you though.
 

pope858

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Thanks for the additional comments. Sometimes when you come across the "cream of the crop" so to speak, and it doesn't do it for you, you start to wonder if maybe you are somehow misleading yourself. I considered changing out the V1 position with a 5751, but I don't have one on-board and didn't want to wait and find out it didn't solve enough of the problem. The tubes inside the amp were all branded ARS. I did try some different 12AX7's to see if I could reduce the hum, but it made no noticeable difference. I did expect a little hum from the circuit, but I was actually surprised by how obvious it was while the amp was at idle. Neither the volume or attenuator had any effect.
I've wondered if the other Tone King models share these characteristics? I am not a performer, so large, powerful amps don't have a place in my inventory. I have a Fender Cyber-Twin that I bought 20 years ago. A great amp, but really too powerful for most of my need these days. I also have a Line 6 Jam amp (my "band in a box") and a couple 5 watt Bugera amps (head & combo) that provide most of the noise these days. I am looking forward to the Princeton, but its 12 watts is still a little bit of overkill for me!
 

burntfrijoles

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My biggest problem with this amp is how quickly it begins to break up! The rhythm channel, with the volume above 4 breaks up too early for my taste. The lead channel starts distorted and goes from there. While the amp is pleasant at low volume levels (2-4) I found its character less appealing at even mid volume levels, with or without the attenuator in use!

I felt somewhat similar to your assessment. I agree that it handles single coils better than humbuckers. You have to use your guitar's volume and tone controls to really tame it and make it more versatile. It's still a very good amp but it only lasted a year with me.
 

Cali Dude

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This is interesting. My Gremlin is pretty darn quiet. I also love the tweed channel when playing humbucker pick-ups. Glad you have found what you like.
 

RuralTom

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First I've heard a bad review too!

That being said, it is not made for or marketed as having typical Fender tones or headroom. Sentence one from the Tone King website states that quite clearly "The Tone King Gremlin is the ultimate low-wattage amp for cranked blackface and tweed-era tones."

Also, rolling tubes can open a lot of new territory; an ecc81 in V1 and a KT88 valve opens up some headroom and pulls the grit and grind back a bit.
 

StevesBoogie

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Oy vey ... every time I see a post about the Gremlin, I get the urge. I'm not in the market for another amp, but, if I woke up one day low on blood sugar and I skipped a med or two that day, I think I'd be coming home with the Gremlin* or the Falcon Grande*, and I'd be perfectly happy, LOL.

Good luck with the Princeton to the OP, obviously an incredible and classic amp.

*(in brown or beige. Brand new from Sweetwater. Waiting for a sale or a comet to hit)
 

gwjensen

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The Nolatone June Bug 2 KILLS most 5-watters for both headroom and crunch. Sounds like at least 10-watts with two 6V6s, but It's only got the one and a BIG transformer. Highly recommended it if you ever bump into one.
 




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